Bogus ‘Rescue’ Behind Cruel Dolphin Circuses

<p> Jakarta Animal Aid Network<span></span> </p>

Dolphins have evolved over millions of years. Intelligent, social and self-aware with a high level emotion makes us fall in love with them, but also exploit them worldwide - including Indonesia.

Photo: Changing Hearts, Minds and Lives

It is impossible to assure the welfare of captive marine mammals. Many die prematurely and that's if they survive the brutal and traumatic capture process.

Around seventy wild caught dolphins are currently suffering in traveling circuses and tiny pools in hotels and also beachside.

In 2010, local group Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Indonesian National Forestry Commission. A large number of illegally kept dolphins were to be rescued, rehabilitated and released from private businesses in Java and Bali. Only two months after the agreement there was a change of director who did not support the program, yet supported businesses like Taman Safari and Wersut Seguni Indonesia (WSI) who catch and keep dolphins.

WSI is a holding center for dolphins in Central Java province. Dolphins are illegally caught from the Java Sea by local fishermen, employed and equipped by those making huge profits from captive dolphin attractions.

In order to avoid existing laws prohibiting the deliberate capture of dolphins, this practice is done at night and the fishermen claim the dolphins were tangled in fishing nets thus exploiting a loophole in the law.

These "rescued" dolphins are taken to WSI for "treatment" and the Forestry Department issues a temporary permit to keep the dolphins "until healthy and ready for release." To date not one dolphin has been released back into the wild and a 90-meter (approx. 295 feet) sea pen built by Earth Island Institute and JAAN, under the supervision of Ric O'Barry, lies empty in Karimum Jawa National Park.

Photo: Jakarta Animal Aid Network

So what of these places where dolphins are forced to suffer unimaginable cruelty on a daily basis? Many of the 70-plus captive dolphins are forced to perform in traveling circuses which continue to be extremely popular in Indonesia - even broadcast on television.

Kept in tiny containers of water, they spend hours traveling from village to village on bumpy roads. Many die during transport and WSI simply replaces them with new wild-caught dolphins (once again exploiting the "rescued" loophole). All this under the authorization of the Central Java Forestry Department and the Bali Forestry Department Offices.

In May 2012 the head of the Central Java Department was changed. Traveling circus owners organized and paid for his leaving party.

Despite a ban on travel shows in August 2013 by the then-Forestry Minister Mr. Zul Hasan, the travel circus continues to perform, showing that local department won't even take orders from its own Minister, but prioritize a business exploiting dolphins.

Photo: Jakarta Animal Aid Network

Indeed a dolphin pool opened in July last year in the very popular Bali resort of Keramas where four wild-caught juveniles now suffer in a tiny pool - the opening of this pool was attended by the local Forestry Department.

This pool was opened to compete with the notorious Melka Dolphin Resort Hotel whose website proudly boasts "Dolphin Show," "Swimming with Dolphins" and that money-induced myth "Dolphin Therapy." What they don't boast here is a high mortality rate amongst its dolphins, nor the fact that frustrated dolphins have been known to "rape" paying guests.

There is a floating sea pen just off the Bali coast in Sanur, but it's just an excuse for more exploitation and more money. The dolphins here weren't "rescued," nor will they ever be "released," which is what visitors are told as they hand over their money.

A change of government in October last year was hoped to bring change, but Indonesia continues to have a very big and serious problem with the dolphin trade.

Neglected by the authorities, it is having a big impact on the region's biodiversity and indeed the reputation of Indonesia itself.